If you're looking for more than just a dive holiday for a week break, then the Blue Ventures Lionfish Project in Belize could be perfect for you!
Joining our team out on our beautiful remote dive camp in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will:
• Improve your dive skills
• Learn about the marine environment
• Learn how to survey and hunt invasive lionfish
• Acquire your lionfish hunting licence
• Contribute towards valuable research
Since March 2010, we have been conducting coral reef monitoring and research in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, filling a much-needed data gap for one of the most remote marine protected areas in Belize.
The lionfish invasion was first documented in coastal waters near Florida in the 1980s, thought to be a result of deliberate and accidental releases from private and public aquaria. First officially recorded in Belizean waters as recently as 2008, their population has expanded rapidly throughout the country. With voracious appetites for juvenile fish and no natural predators to control them, they are now considered one of the biggest threats to the coral reef life in the Caribbean.
If you join us, you could contribute to research aiming to monitor the progression of the invasion in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, as well as inform regional invasive lionfish research priorities. Furthermore, you can help reduce the pressure of this invasive fish by participating in regular lionfish culls whilst SCUBA diving. You will leave satisfied that you have not only been vital in collecting data which contributes to local and regional scientific research but have explored the reefs of the beautiful Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve in the process.
Click on the interactive map below to zoom in and out of the region. Our expedition divesite is located on Bacalar Chico:
View Blue Ventures in Belize in a larger map
You will be given an introduction to marine life in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, with detailed lessons about invasive lionfish, behaviour, competitors and prey. You will also learn about marine megafauna, sighted frequently on dives and recorded to monitor abundance. In-water training includes lionfish-detection practice, survey training, and safe, environmentally-sound methods for hunting and removing lionfish from coral reefs. The data you collect will be used to monitor the progression of the lionfish invasion, population status, diet and reproductive rates, as well as form hypotheses on specific impacts and recommendations for management. Lionfish surveys have been designed to answer pressing questions about the lionfish invasion in Bacalar Chico, whilst following regional guidelines.
1. Lionfish Population Density Surveys – transect length 30m
a. Researcher 1 performs a 2m wide fish belt in 6-8 minutes, recording presence and size of predetermined species (potential competitors/predators, e.g. grouper, and territorial damselfish species known to affect fish recruitment).
b. Researcher 2 performs a slow, thorough 5m wide “Lionfish Focussed Search” to detect cryptic lionfish hidden in crevices. Every lionfish encountered is measured to 1cm accuracy using a marked measuring stick, and its behaviour and microhabitat is recorded. Minimum search time is 15 minutes.
c. Researcher 3 performs a slow, thorough 2m wide invertebrate & moray belt to detect, identify, sex and measure lobster, potential competitors of lionfish, and moray eels, potential predators. No time limit.
d. Researcher 1 returns along the transect to record fish recruit abundance (following the MBRS-SMP method – 1m wide, no time limit)
2. Lionfish Sighting Frequency Loga. The presence, estimated size, behaviour and microhabitat for every lionfish encountered is recorded in our long-term opportunistic sightings log
3. Lionfish Culling and Dissections
a. Lionfish culling effort is recordedb. Culled individuals are measured to accurately record length, and dissected to record sex, reproductive activity and stomach contents.
You will learn how to hunt lionfish using specially designed spears whilst diving, something which is otherwise prohibited in Belize, and participate in dissections to establish the species that lionfish are feeding on. You will have the opportunity to assist with Blue Ventures’ research and outreach activities at the Placencia lionfish tournament (27th to 29th June 2014) where we will be providing information and tasters of lionfish.
How will I contribute to conservation efforts?
The data collected during the surveys will contribute to national and international research and will assist with lionfish population management efforts. With protected areas closed to fishing, market development for lionfish meat that Blue Ventures has pioneered in Belize does not address lionfish population growth in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve. Alternative solutions must be sought to address this catastrophic invasion within protected areas, which serve as a haven not only for native species, but also lionfish. By reducing the population through culling dives you will be directly responsible for reducing the pressures of the lionfish invasion in these areas.
Check out our research publications, written by our field scientists, incorporating data collected by volunteers to see our work and how Blue Ventures uses volunteer data. The work that we have carried out in Belize to find commercial and sustainable solutions ot the lionfish problem has resulted in international media coverage of our work.
The advantages of joining us at our Bacalar Chico Dive camp - as opposed to a diving holiday - go far beyond the fact that it will completely change the way you view the underwater world. If you are thinking about studying or working in marine biology then this is a great taster for what is involved and will give you a strong grounding in underwater identification, survey skills and invasive species management.
If you are a SCUBA diver who wants to understand more about marine ecology, then this trip is a fantastic way to learn about marine species, contribute to a research project and make more of your time in the water.
If all this wasn’t enough, it’s a great way to meet a diverse group of like-minded people from all over the world and during your time off enjoy snorkelling, beach walks and other fun activities!
A view from Bacalar Chico Dive Camp
Bacalar Chico Dive Camp
Before you head for Belize, we provide all volunteers with comprehensive pre-departure information which gives you information on travel, visas, what to pack, communication with home and all the other practicalities as well as a marine science training guide. This will allow you to get a head start on learning the different species monitored during surveys, and get more from your time with us.
We do require all participants to have at least their PADI Advanced Open Water (or equivalent) dive certification when joining the expedition but this can be completed at your local dive centre if you don’t already have it or during a standard expedition with us beforehand.
The trip is 7 days including the arrival and departure days, and the pick-up and drop-off point is the town of San Pedro, which is less than two hours by boat from Belize City and Bacalar Chico Dive Camp.
|1||Sat 17 May||Sat 24 May||Meet at San Pedro and transfer to Bacalar Chico Dive Camp – Introductory Briefings|
|2||Sun 18 May||Sun 25 May||Scientific lectures - background, monitoring methods, marine megafauna ID
Lionfish survey training dive 1 (for ½ group)
|3||Mon 19 May||Mon 26 May||Scientific lectures - background, monitoring methods, marine megafauna ID
Lionfish survey training dives 1, 2 & 3
|4||Tues 20 May||Tue 27 May||Lionfish population survey dive 1
Lionfish culling dives 1-3
(San Pedro Resupply Run)
|5||Wed 21 May||Wed 28 May||Lionfish population survey dives 2-4
Assist with outreach activities for Placencia Lionfish tournament
|6||Thurs 22 May||Thurs 29 May||Lionfish population survey dives 5 & 6
Lionfish culling dives 4-6
Review week's findings and assist with outreach activities for Placencia Lionfish Tournament
|7||Fri 23 May||Fri 30 May||Depart for San Pedro for onwards travel|
Included in the cost of your trip:
- Accommodation for the duration of your stay
- Three meals per day, including tea and coffee at breakfast and lunch, during the dates of the trip
- Transfers to dive camp from our meeting point in San Pedro and return at the end of the week
- Science training with our team
- Belize Fisheries Department lionfish hunter license
- PADI SCUBA tune-up course (including manual) with dive instructor on arrival
- SCUBA diving
- Use of our SCUBA diving equipment: buoyancy control device (BCD); breathing regulator; weight belt; weights and cylinder
- Comprehensive logistical support and pastoral care from our team of permanent staff
- Health and safety provision from our Expedition Manager and SCUBA Diving Manager(s)
Not included in the cost:
- Flights (the nearest international airports are Belize City and Cancun, Mexico)
- Internal travel to San Pedro
- Personal diving equipment: wetsuit, mask, snorkel, fins, knife, dive watch or dive computer, delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB) and A4 dive slate and pencil
- Personal field equipment (e.g. sleeping bag, torch and mosquito net)
- Malaria prophylaxis and vaccinations - please contact your family doctor or local travel clinic for the latest information and prices
- Visa costs
- Travel insurance - comprehensive policies are recommended, prices vary depending on your home country
- Divers Alert Network (DAN) membership (which includes comprehensive dive insurance) available from £25 (depending on your region)
- Carbon offset payment of £10 to ADES
- Spending money for drinks, snacks and souvenirs
- Hotel accommodation before or after your expedition dates
- Pilot project price of £495 for 2014, discount for Volunteer Medic
- Pick up - from San Pedro on Saturday 17th May 2014 (meeting place: My Secret Deli, next to the Belize Fisheries Department Hol Chan office at 3pm)
- Drop off – to San Pedro on Friday 23rd May 2014 (at 10am)
- Pick-up - from San Pedro on Saturday 24th May 2014 (meeting place: My Secret Deli, next to the Belize Fisheries Department Hol Chan office at 3pm)
- Drop off - to San Pedro on Friday 30th May 2014 (at 10am)